Western weapons have been critical to Ukraine’s success in thwarting Russia’s much larger and better equipped military in a war now entering its 99th day. But as Russian forces approached an important city in recent days, the Ukrainian government said its fighters needed better rocket launchers to be victorious.
A Kremlin spokesman again warned of “absolutely undesirable and rather unpleasant scenarios” if the latest weapons supplied by the West were fired at Russia.
“This pumping up of arms in Ukraine…will cause more suffering to Ukraine, which is just a tool in the hands of the countries that supply it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Russian troops continued to storm villages and towns at night, tightening their hold on the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk. The British Ministry of Defense reported that Russia had taken most of the city, one of two in Luhansk province that had remained under Ukrainian control.
As fighting raged in eastern Ukraine, some residents fleeing Russian attempts to storm the capital Kiev were faced with the overwhelming task of rebuilding their shattered lives.
Nila Zelinska and her husband, Eduard, returned for the first time this week to the charred ruins of what used to be their home outside of Kiev. She fled with her 82-year-old mother amid Russian shelling and air raids in the days of the war.
Zelinska sobbed and pulled out from under the rubble a doll that belonged to one of her grandchildren and held it as if it were a real child.
“May there be peace on earth, peace so that our people don’t suffer so much,” she said.
Speaking via video link to a security conference in Slovakia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for even more weapons and sanctions against Russia to end such horrors.
“As of today, the occupiers control almost 20% of our territory, almost 125,000 square kilometers (48,262 square miles),” he said.
Zelenskyy said Russia has fired 15 cruise missiles in the past day and used a total of 2,478 missiles since the invasion of Ukraine, “most of them targeting civilian infrastructure.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK would send an unspecified number of M270 launchers, capable of firing precision-guided missiles up to 80 kilometers (50 miles). Ukrainian troops will be trained in the UK to use the equipment, he said.
The British government says the decision to supply the launchers was closely coordinated with the US government, which said on Wednesday it would supply High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to Ukraine.
The two missile systems are similar, although the American one has wheels while the British one – also built in the US – runs on tracks.
Germany was criticized for not doing enough to help Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf said on Wednesday that his country would provide Ukraine with modern anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems. He told lawmakers that the IRIS-T’s surface-to-air missiles that Germany wanted to supply were the most modern air defense system the country has.
Sweden also announced plans to donate weapons to Kiev on Thursday. These include missiles, semi-automatic rifles and anti-tank weapons, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said. The country’s parliament is expected to approve the donation.
After weapons supplied by the West helped Ukraine fend off Russian attempts to storm the capital, Moscow turned its focus to conquering the entire industrial Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. As the Russian military steadily bombarded the Ukrainian-occupied areas, the offensive there resulted in increasing profits over the past week.
A Ukrainian military expert said an increase in Russian missile strikes came in response to the newly promised weapons.
“The supply of Western weapons is a major concern for the Kremlin, as the Ukrainian military dares to withstand the offensive even without sufficient weapons,” military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told The Associated Press.
Analysts believe Russia hopes to overrun the Donbas before weapons arrive that could turn the tide. It will take at least three weeks to get US precision weapons and trained troops onto the battlefield, the Pentagon said. But Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl said he believes they will arrive in time to make a difference in the battle.
Kiev will also receive a diplomatic boost with the formal installation of a new US ambassador to Ukraine. US Ambassador Bridget Brink was due to hand over her credentials to Zelenskyy on Thursday.
Brink will become Washington’s first ambassador to Kiev since former US President Donald Trump abruptly drove out Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in 2019. She later became a key figure in the first impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Prior to her Senate confirmation last month, Brink promised senators she would work to make Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “strategic failure.” Her work in Kiev is expected to focus on coordinating Western arms shipments.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Ukraine’s repeated push for more weapons a “direct provocation designed to draw the West into the fray”. He warned that multiple US-supplied rocket launchers would increase the risk of extensive conflict.
Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to bomb the Donbas and other parts of Ukraine as ground forces advanced further east.
A regional governor said Russian forces now control 80% of Sievierodonetsk, a city crucial to Moscow’s efforts to complete the conquest of the Donbas. Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists have been fighting in the eastern region for eight years, and the separatists held parts of the territory before the Russian invasion.
Military analyst Zhdanov noted that after the fierce fighting in and around Sievierodonetsk, Russian troops will be “exhausted” and military leaders will have to replenish their troops and weapons.
“Ukraine will try to use this pause to collect Western weapons, form a strategic reserve and prepare a counter-offensive,” he said.
The only other city in Luhansk province that the Russians have not yet captured, Lysychansk, is still completely under Ukrainian control, the governor said, but will likely be the next target. The two cities are separated by a river.
Moscow’s troops also stormed the town of Komyshuvakha in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhya, large parts of which are under Russian control, Ukraine’s General Staff said Thursday.
In the western region of Lviv, a Russian missile hit railway lines that were an important conduit for the delivery of Western weapons and other supplies, officials said.
In his nightly video address, the president of Ukraine turned attention to the children of his country. He said 243 of them were killed in the war, 446 were wounded and 139 were missing. The actual numbers could be higher, he added, as his government does not have a complete picture of areas under Russian occupation.
Zelenskyy said 200,000 children were among the Ukrainians who were forcibly brought to Russia and scattered across that vast country: “The aim of this criminal policy is not only to steal people, but to make those who are deported forget Ukraine and not to be able to return.”